Northeast Florida: The best beaches

Words and images by Carly Wille

Although they are hours apart, the city of Daytona and the Florida-Georgia border have one thing in common: a continuous coastline of beaches connects them. Each different in its own way, whether it be the grittiness of the sand, the blue tone of the water or the array of beach goers they receive, Northeast Florida beaches boast bountiful diverse habitats.

The beaches in St. Augustine are secluded and well protected. The historical roots of this place, spanning back to the Spanish conquistadors, are reason alone for their preservation.

Katelyn Decker moved to St. Augustine from Jacksonville three months ago and she spoke highly of the beaches in her new town.

“Not only can you drive on the beaches in St. Augustine, which is new to me, but you can also bring dogs onto any of them,” Decker said. “This in particular won me over because before, when I lived in Jax, it was difficult to ever bring my dog, Romeo, to the beach with me.”

Further north is Amelia Island, which bears some of the more intriguing beaches in Northeast Florida. In particular Fernandina Beach, because of its association with the northernmost city in Florida, is a bit more active than the beaches in St. Augustine. Its sand is hard-packed enough for running, biking and driving motor vehicles on it.

Finally, the city of Jacksonville is also home to a great stretch of beaches. These beaches are the most visited in Northeast Florida. Jacksonville’s beaches are swarming with local restaurants, storefronts and residents.

Nicole Cremer has lived in Jacksonville her entire life and appreciates the beaches.

“We have it all here: the calm beaches where you can go to get away and the busier beaches where my friends and I spend much of our time,” Cremer said. “Jacksonville has so much life on its beaches. I’ve been here 24 years and I’m still not sick of it.”

These three cities, St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach and Jacksonville possess nine of the best beaches in the Northeast Florida area. Obviously there are countless beaches in the area that weren’t mentioned that also have their own allure but these, in no particular order, have a reputation.

1) Anastasia Park, St. Augustine

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Located on the coastline of a 1,600-acre state park, this beach is over four miles of white sand abounding with wildlife. Breaking waves meet the smooth shore while grassy dunes are scattered about. Also originating from the beach are multiple hiking trails. Although it is $8 per car to enter, Anastasia State Park is well worth it as one of the top state parks in the United States. The beach is isolated and provides visitors a truly pristine waterfront escape.

2) St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine

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Located in the heart of St. Augustine with restaurants and hotels close by is St. Augustine Beach. Unlike its neighbor, Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine beach offers free parking and is much busier. If its prime location right across the bridge from historical St. Augustine isn’t enough, the beach of St. Augustine offers an outstanding sunrise view that is sought after by locals and photographers alike.

3) Vilano Beach, St. Augustine

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Positioned on the inlet, Vilano Beach is the northern-most beach in St. Augustine. With its strong swells and soft, white sand, Vilano Beach attracts many locals and visitors, just like its southern neighbors. However, this beach is quite different as well. Due to its location near the St. Augustine inlet, the sand on the beach inverts to a drop-off and the ocean water is choppy with a strong current. Vilano Beach remains somewhat secluded from tourists, although its sunsets attract morning runners and photographers.

4) Amelia Island State Park, Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach

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At the southern tip of Amelia Island sits this coastal maritime park with beautiful beaches, marshes and forests. Being a protected coastline, the Amelia Island State Park beach is somewhat isolated compared to other beaches on Amelia Island. The shore is flat and spacious with miles of packed sand for beach goers to walk or drive on. One perk, exclusive to Amelia Island State Park is its allowance for equestrians. The state park itself offers horseback riding trails throughout the forest that ultimately lead to the beach.

5) American Beach, Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach

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Right on the coast of a metropolitan area in Fernandina is American Beach, surrounded by a mix of older traditionally African-American homes and up-scale resorts and condos. This was the first Northeast Florida beach to allow blacks to visit and swim and became the home for many. Long wooden boardwalks aid beach goers in crossing the stretch of grassy sand dunes that lead to the secluded beach. Visitors have the option to either walk from the large parking lot, or instead, to drive their vehicles right onto the shore in the certain areas that are permitted. Today the beach also has a small museum that covers the background of this small but historic area.

6) Peter’s Point, Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach

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Amelia Island Parkway is a busy roadway that connects the turn-off for both American Beach and Peters Point. Like American Beach, Peter’s Point rests in the heart of the metropolitan area of Fernandina but has quite a different vibe. This beach is extremely populated and boasts a full parking lot almost touching the dunes. Tall, beautifully structured condos and housing units tower over Peter’s Point. Beach-goers have the option to drive their cars onto the shore in designated areas and the beach is often filled with cars and trucks and booming with visitors.

7) Seaside Park, Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach

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One of the northern-most beaches on Amelia Island is at the lively Seaside Park. Not only is the actual waterfront active with beach-goers but also right past the water, sand and dunes are a strip of bars, restaurants and shops brimming with a beachy vibe. The actual beach of Seaside is similar to Peters Point, crowded and buzzing with cars full of visitors but Seaside Park’s street life gives it an edge on the other Amelia Island beaches. Parking can be difficult because of the high number of visitors in such a small area and also because of a popular two-story restaurant called Sliders Seaside Grille that overlooks Seaside Park Beach.

8) Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville

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One of the most populous of these top nine beaches is Jacksonville Beach. Its choppy blue water is revered by surfers and often surf competitions take place off its shore. Jacksonville Beach is regularly astir with locals playing beach volleyball and other sports, tanning under the warm sun or swimming in the refreshing water. This beach is also distinguished by its 1,320-foot pier, which for $1 gives visitors access to fish or just enjoy the view. Right off of the pier is a strip of local bars and restaurants that truly give Jacksonville Beach an edge on other beaches. Bars such as Lynch’s Irish Pub, The Ritz and The Shim Sham Room draw a lot of traffic to the Jacksonville Beach area and have much to do with the influx of visitors to the beach.

9) Neptune Beach, Jacksonville

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Situated right in between Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach is a quiet coastal community known as Neptune Beach. Although like Jacksonville Beach, it too has a strip of restaurants and bars, Neptune Beach has managed to maintain a calm and secluded atmosphere. Its sand is hard-packed and therefore, ideal for riding bicycles. Almost every sunrise from the coastline of Northeast Florida is beautiful when the weather is right but locals insist the solitude Neptune Beach offers makes the sunrise on this beach even more special and perfect for photo opportunities.

10) Ponte Vedra Beach, Jacksonville

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On the coastline of an upper-class metropolitan area full of large houses, resorts and the renowned golf club and course, TPC Sawgrass, is Ponte Vedra Beach. The beach manages to remain nearly deserted due to the protection of its nearly 40-foot sand dunes as well as its location. Ponte Vedra Beach is located in the backyard of the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and Ponte Vedra residents’ homes. The farthest beach south in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach gives locals and vacationers space from the congestion of Jacksonville Beach and instead offers a calm, white-sand shoreline perfect for hunting for shells, kayaking, paddle boarding or just relaxing under the sun.

 

 

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